Back in October I was in Austria, the only open gateway to the EU for migrants and refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East. I took the opportunity to speak to migrants and activists about the current situation.
This is the story of Nabeel Taha, an Iraqi radio presenter and cartoonist (that’s his artwork pictured), who fled his home after an exhibition got him into deadly trouble with Daesh.
I have uploaded two versions of this interview, the original Arabic, and my English voiceover. Many thanks to Sarah Saey and her father for doing the translation. The transcript of Nabeel’s words follows after the audio.
Transcription of Nabeel’s words
Many thanks again to Sarah Saey and her father for this translation.
My name is Nabeel Taha, from Iraq. I am from the city of Salah ed-Deen, 60km north of Baghdad. I work on the radio and I also draw caricatures.
The reason I came to Europe and Austria is because of the situation in Iraq and the town that I live in which has had a terrifying experience with Daesh. Daesh have occupied all the north and centre of Iraq and the government hasn’t intervened.
There was bombing every day on the town. About 20 bombs – heavy and medium loads – and all this bombing is killing people, including my friends and relatives. At the end of the time that I was in Iraq I was involved in an exhibition for cartoons. My cartoons showed Daesh and I criticised them, especially from the religious side. As a result of that, people started to threaten me. They said they knew me and they could get to me at any time.
Some people advised me that I should go to Baghdad and onwards to Turkey and Europe, because I have some relatives in Belgium. My mother helped me with some money. She gave me €11,000 and I lived terrified for those few days. People know me in that city because I was working in the radio and a lot of people know who I am and they know my face. So I was scared, especially in a town full of terrorists.
I know a lot of friends – doctors, teachers, artists – who have died, and also a poet. They were all killed. I was so terrified, I wanted to get out of Iraq at any time.
When my family gave me the money I left Baghdad and went to Istanbul and then on to Greece. That trip, which was by boat, took 4 hours. The boat was about 8 metres in length and there were 59 people onboard. It was terrifying. We went on that boat. The boat wasn’t very good. We felt like we were going to drown. We were rescued by the sea patrol people. We would have drowned otherwise.
We spent 10 days in Greece and paid €1500 to travel onwards. After that I went to another town and then I walked with women and children for 8 hours to Macedonia. We arrived in southern Bulgaria and the Cypriot police caught us and we don’t know why. We stayed there for 10 days and from Belgrade we went to the north of Serbia and from there to Hungary and then to Austria.
I wasn’t lucky at first. I tried five times to cross (into Austria), but the Hungarian police caught me. I was held by the police for 20 days and I paid a fine to the Serbian police. I was also very sick and they didn’t let me see a doctor. I gave them €3000. Then I went to Austria, where I applied for political asylum.
I am lucky because I am still alive. A lot of my friends from Syria and Iraq either died in the sea or I don’t know what happened to them. Every night I dream of my family and my mother and my sister who still live in danger. I speak to them on Viber and Facebook.
I definitely definitely cannot return to Iraq. I have been here for 6 months and I hope that I can get my papers because I cannot see how I can return back. I am now waiting for the government of Austria to see if they will accept me.
I am intelligent and I have a gift. I worked in the theatre and I am good at writing in Arabic. I write poetry and I put a lot of my poetry in the newspapers. I could be beneficial for the Austrian government.
What can I say at the end of that talk? Please give us the chance to live like you all. We would like to breathe the air that you breathe and share the same sky and live a normal life. This is all that we need.
I believe that god provided me with a new life in this country. I hope that I can get myself going and make something happen and bring my mother and sister because I don’t want to lose them like I have many of my friends from bombs and Daesh.
Many of my friends from school and university, friends and teachers, have died and I will never forget them as long as I’m alive. Their picture is always in my mind and whenever I remember them I cry real tears for them. I wrote a poem for all of them called ‘Souls’. I wrote it in the last 2 days and I hope I can put it in some of the newspapers here if they will allow me.
Thank you for showing the suffering that I am going through. I am always reading about the history of Europe and I believe that you are the best people: all religions living together. Also I have felt they way you have received refugees.
The prophet Muhammed sent his friends to the Negashi (Christian people) in Habasha and our prophet said they would welcome you. Our history shows that Muslims went to seek refuge with Christians from other Muslims. I always say European people are like angels and we will never forget how you stood for us as refugees.
Thank you very much and thank you to everyone who hears me. And finally I will say, as the Quran says, “Show mercy to people on earth and god will show mercy to you in the sky.” We are on earth now and I’m sure god will show mercy to people in Europe. Thank you.